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September 30, 2015, Lake Buena Vista, Florida – Sister Mary Keefe, OP, received the 2015 Good Samaritan Award in recognition of her efforts, through Nuns’ Build, to organize Catholic Sisters, colleagues and family members to rebuild homes in New Orleans that had been severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Sister Mary received the award September 15 from the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) during their annual gathering.

The Good Samaritan Award is given to a person whose “life of service is an outstanding example of following the Gospel message, as manifested in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” Attending the award ceremony with Sister Mary were Karen Ashiku, her blood sister; Amy Palmer, Director of Development for the Adrian Dominican Sisters; and Sister Patricia Siemen, OP.

Sister Mary speaks about her work through Nuns’ Build. Photo by Jim Greipp, NCDC

In accepting the award, Sister Mary spoke of the heritage and call of Catholic Sisters. “We stand on the shoulders of giants, women who gave up everything to follow Christ,” she said. “We continue in their footsteps, being faithful, as they were, to the call of God in those places where we find ourselves.”

Sister Mary developed Nuns’ Build in response to the needs of the people of New Orleans who had been afflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She moved to New Orleans in November 2007 to begin a ministry of home visiting in St. Bernard Civil Parish (similar to a county).  

In her efforts to gather information on resources available to the people of St. Bernard, Sister Mary contacted St. Bernard Project, an organization that focused on rebuilding homes in New Orleans. After hearing about Women’s Build – a project to encourage women to volunteer to rebuild the homes and to raise money for families that could not afford the necessary materials – Sister Mary suggested a new, similar project, Nuns’ Build. 

The first Nuns’ Build was scheduled for early October 2009. “I had no idea how to put something like a Nuns’ Build together,” Sister Mary said in her acceptance talk. “I knew I needed beds and cars and drivers so I began contacting the Sisters in the area. All of them responded in a most positive way and offered to do anything they could to help.” Sister Mary also reached out to Dominican congregations throughout the country, inviting them to take part in the project. The Dominican Sisters contacted Sisters from other congregations, and the first Nuns’ Build drew nearly 100 volunteers for all or part of the five-day work.  

Sister Mary noted the generous response of the Sisters and of numerous other people throughout the years. “A church parish about 35 miles from New Orleans made and delivered lunches to the work [site],” she said. “The Knights of Columbus hosted dinner for us the Sunday night before the Builds began, as well as providing and delivering lunches on two or three days to the work sites.”

Today, more than 10 years after Katrina, the rebuilding efforts of New Orleans and surrounding areas continue. Thousands of homeowners still have not been able to afford to rebuild their homes after the storm, according to a report by NBC News

The St. Bernard Project continues to serve the needs of these families in New Orleans – as well as the families in New York and New Jersey suffering from Hurricane Sandy. The Seventh Annual Nuns’ Build is scheduled for November 16-20, 2015. Registrations are still being accepted.


Feature photo: Sister Mary Keefe, OP, holding her award, poses with Karen Ashiku, Sister Mary’s sister (left) and Amy Palmer, Director of Development for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Photo by Jim Greipp, NCDC

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September 29, 2015, Detroit, Michigan -- The Capuchin Soup Kitchen sponsored a special prayer service in honor of International Day of Peace, September 21. The evening at the St. Bonaventure chapel in Detroit brought together a cross section of people from various faiths, cultures and environments.  

Sister Nancyann Turner, OP, welcomed the congregation with a reminder that so many places need love and community.  “The call to Peace is urgent,” she said. “Our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, and the whole world are such need of healing and love and community. We must work for peace -- as well as pray for peace.” 

The Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir and the St. Charles Praise Dancers used song and dance to honor peace and invite people to various modalities of praying for peace.

Two speakers, Lila Cabbil and Rasha Almulaiki, spoke of how important parents and families are in imparting either acceptance or prejudice to their children. Lila Cabbil reminded participants that a love of peace must expand to work for justice. Rasha Almulaiki spoke of what it feels like to be labeled different, a problem, or a terrorist when she was simply a student at Wayne State University.

Following the presentations, members of the assembly took part in a beautiful anointing ritual. As a sign that each person can be a healer, participants received a peace blessing with holy oil. Closing music and blessings challenged each person to be a source of light and peace throughout the family, the neighborhood and the city.

During the reception afterwards, people continued to share stories about peace for another hour. So many people expressed gratitude for the service. “Thank you so much for the beautiful prayer service,” Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP, said. “It was a wonderful way to pray for peace and to celebrate the richness of all the people of this city and world. I was so proud to be part of it.”  

Sister Theresa said she was “touched by every aspect of the service: the interfaith experience, the words of Lila and Rasha, the amazing young dancers, the beautiful spirited singing — right down to those huge cookies for refreshments. I was so glad I was able to come.”   

Other Adrian Dominicans participating in the prayer service included Associate Carol Hofer and Sisters Rosalie Esquerra, Pat Johnson, Noreen O’Connell, and Suzanne Schreiber. Many other Adrian Dominicans sent word that they were praying with the group from other locations.

And so, may all of us continue to pray for peace and work for peace. 

- Article submitted by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen



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